Last Friday, the baseball team of my home town Cleveland lost their home opening game for the sixth time in seven years. Good. I am glad. Although there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth among local fans, I was delighted because this is exactly what I wanted. I hope that they continue to lose all their remaining games or, failing that, that they end up with the worst record of all the teams, or failing that, they do not make it into the playoffs. I also hope that their games experience torrential downpours. In other words, I place upon the team the curse of all the atheist gods.
The reason for my hope for failure will be obvious to regular readers. It is because of the team’s racist Chief Wahoo logo that they refuse to get rid of and which fans seem to be inordinately attached to, making up all manner of reasons as to why it is not racist.
Daniel McGraw attended the opening game and witnessed the angry confrontations between racist fans and people who were protesting the logo. He also systematically debunks the revisionist history that the team owners and fans have created to support their non-existent case that the logo is not racist but actually ‘honors’ Native Americans.
Many Native Americans have been averse to most all sports nicknames using tribal names in recent decades – and a good number of colleges and high school have changed them through the years. But professional sports teams like the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Blackhawks have not even come close to considering that option. Their usual explanation is that they are “honoring” Native Americans with their nicknames and mascots, not demeaning them or monetizing their cultures.
The Cleveland Indians have put out that mantra for many years, but recent academic research has made them backpedal a bit. In 1914, the team was known as the Cleveland Naps, in honor of their star player and manager and future Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie. But Lajoie’s contract was sold to the Philadelphia Athletics after that season, and the Cleveland team went searching for a new name. Cleveland sportswriters were delegated to choose a new name and they picked Indians, in part because the Boston Braves had won the 1914 World Series.
But when people in the 1960s started questioning why the team was named after a race of people, the Indians created a revisionist myth of sorts. The story was put out that the team was honoring Louis Sockalexis with the 1915 name change, a member of the Penobscot tribe who played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897 through 1899. He only went to bat 367 times (about half a season for the average full-time position player) in those three years.
So it is highly unlikely that the team was honoring Sockalexis by naming the team ‘Indians’. Further proof is that none of the reports from the four daily newspapers in Cleveland at that time mentioned Sockalexis when the change was made in January 1915. The team no longer says the team name “honors” Sockalexis, but instead the organization is “proud to acknowledge and foster [Sockalexis’] legacy.
Of course, one does not expect the minds of die-hard fans to change, nor the minds of owners who only care about selling merchandise. There is something a little weird about the way they desperately cling on to a racist symbol but it is just another manifestation of the deep-rooted racism that still exists in the US.